If it weren’t for ENCE, the Aussies would be the big story of 2019 so far. Arriving seemingly out of nowhere, AZR and co. shocked the world with their excellent showings at the Katowice major and StarSeries Season 7. Their performance at a big tournament on their home turf could very well indicate whether they’re a real deal – and at least a repeat of last year’s playoff finish is to be expected from this revitalized Renegades side.

It’s too early to identify what specifically led to the massive improvement in Renegades’ recent performances: the roster changes, the return of kassad and potential changes behind the scenes all likely factored into it, but the breadth and depth of their newfound form still remains a question. If it’s just lightning in a bottle, analysts will be tempted to chalk it all up to the strong individual performances of jks at the recent top-tier LAN events. The sample size is still fairly small – and where better to prove your remaining doubters wrong than in front of a home crowd?

With three of the top five teams of the world missing in action at Sydney (and MiBR hardly deserving a favorites’ designation based on recent form), this could very well be an event where the hometown heroes go all the way. They’ve already surprised us with their playoffs run at the same event last year, beating a much stronger FaZe Clan in a best-of-three to guarantee their spot. This time, they are placed in different groups – but the one they ended up in should give them a good chance to progress as well. An opening game against MVP PK is a must-win, which would then pit them against the winner of the NiP-eUnited matchup. Funnily enough, the Aussies recently won against the first and lost against the latter on LAN, and it’s not out of the question that the North American side makes it past the Ninjas for a rematch considering their recent record. Win that, and the guaranteed playoffs spot is theirs as mousesports and Team Liquid are set for a collision on the other side of the upper bracket. Slip up, and things can go wrong very quickly.

As such, reaching the quarterfinals is not at all out of the question for the Renegades. However, the real question is whether they can go any further. With two wins over FaZe Clan, 1-1 overall against MiBR and a win over NRG at ESL Pro League recently, they are quite well-equipped against the teams from the other side of the bracket. Looking at the rest of the big names, mousesports are promising but clearly still a work in progress, Fnatic remain consistently inconsistent and Liquid have their own issues with closing out events. While the Aussies’ total triumph would definitely be a surprise, IEM Sydney 2019 clearly marks their best chance for a top-tier trophy for a long time to come. With three strong LAN showings in a row (if you include the ESL Pro League Season 8 finals), this might just be the time for them to make that big step forward.